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In a study comprised of nearly 2,500 individuals with an eating disorder, nearly 60% had an anxiety disorder. While it’s common to see a co-occurrence of eating disorders with depression and substance use, anxiety is actually the most common of all the disorders co-occurring with anorexia. These comorbidity findings are beginning to raise important questions about the very nature of eating disorders, and their treatment.

The following are some important connections about eating disorders and anxiety:

  1. In the Majority of Cases, Anxiety Precedes an Eating Disorder: A control study from the Journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica revealed that comorbid anxiety disorders were common in women with diagnosed anorexia nervosa (60%) and bulimia nervosa (57%). In 90% of women with anorexia nervosa, and 94% of women with bulimia nervosa, anxiety disorders preceded their eating disorder.
    Potential For Treatment Advances: If youth and teens showing signs of anxiety were to receive treatment for this condition earlier on, could it prevent it from turning into an eating disorder?
  2. Recovery from an Eating Disorder May not mean the End of Anxiety/Depression:If you have a dual diagnosis, it’s important that you receive treatment for this co-occurring disorder. It will be different than treatment you would receive for just one or the other. The more specialized the treatment, the more effective it is. It’s also important to note that recovery from an eating disorder doesn’t mean that symptoms of anxiety and/or depression will necessarily dissipate. Studies have found significantly elevated levels of anxiety and depression from those recovered for anorexia, meaning you might continue to seek treatment in the form of counseling, medication, or both.
    Potential For Treatment Advances: If ongoing anxiety and depression isn’t treated after an individual recovers from an eating disorder, individuals may be more likely to utilize unhealthy eating or exercising as a coping mechanism.
  3. The Need for Control May Be Triggered by Anxiety: You’ve probably heard that many eating disorders are about an individual’s attempt to take back control. You may not have realized that this might be directly related to their anxiety. For someone struggling with severe anxiety, for instance, being able to control their food, weight, or exercise can give them a false sense of control, temporarily relieving symptoms experienced due to anxiety.
    Potential For Treatment Advances: If the treatment an individual receives for anxiety is enough to diminish their need for control, it could prevent the snowballing of the anxiety disorder into a full blown eating disorder.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 26-March 4th. If you or someone you know is struggling with food-related anxiety or stress, take an anonymous self-assessment at http://MyBodyScreening.org.

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